Knowledge is the Best Kind of Wealth
by His Majesty King Abdullah II ’80 of Jordan
Commencement Address, May 28, 2006
B’ism Allah, alrahman alrahim, In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Headmaster, friends, it is a tremendous pleasure to be back at Deerfield among all of you. And students, I am honored to help celebrate your commencement.
In life this is one of the rare moments, not so much a turning point, but a poising point when you can stop, look back at real success and think about the path ahead. Allow me first to congratulate some of you who have really been looking forward to this day, from that first Deerfield visit, through all the lessons learned, term time and vacation time, papers and reports and college applications, the worries and the joys, the late night emails, the love and support, and all of those phone calls. Deerfield parents, please accept our respect and thanks.
Men and women of the class of 2006, this is your day. I am here to welcome you to a remarkable community, the community of Deerfield alumni. You will find us all around the world. Each and every one of us knows what it means to look up to the hills and be part of this experience and school. You learn when you come here that a great institution is not just a place, it’s the people who give this school its continuity and character, its unique spirit of community and excellence. For you as for all of us, that experience does not end today; it simply begins a new phase.
The Deerfield ethos is for a lifetime. As you carry that spirit forward you will shape the future more than you know. Your class comes of age in a world of change in global economics and politics and human knowledge and capability. That’s a reality my own class is very familiar with. In 1980 when we graduated the Cold War was in the daily headlines. Now it’s a chapter in the history books. Technologies that were cutting edge just a short time ago are today in museums. Do you know that the first IBM PC wasn’t even on the market until 1981, and it held 256 kilobytes of memory. Kilobytes. All the technologies we take for granted today, cell phones, laptops, global communications, were barely on the horizon. I can guarantee you in a few years you and I will be working with whole new capabilities and facing new challenges. Now how do we prepare for that kind of future?
In Jordan, in America, in every other country it starts with a command of the basics, a foundation of knowledge and skills. There’s an old saying in my part of the world: Knowledge is the best kind of wealth. It’s easy to carry, nobody can take it away from you, and it has value wherever you go. Let me add, contrary to what it felt like when you were studying for exams, your brain cannot overfill. The more we know, the better we can understand what’s coming. In business and technology, in the environment, in global affairs and world civilizations, the message is ‘keep learning.’ But in a dynamic, diverse world success requires more.
To thrive throughout your life you must be prepared to think your way through change and growth and challenge. The best schools foster critical thinking and a restless curiosity. Strong ethics, respect for other people, other viewpoints, honesty, responsibility, compassion. At Deerfield we’ve all heard it said ‘keep it on the high level, and finish up strong.’ That sense of character, that heart, is what you bring to the future, and it has never been more important. That’s because for all that has changed, some things haven’t changed enough.
Vast numbers of people across our globe still suffer poverty, hardship, and relentless conflict. In my own region, too many lives for too many years have been shattered by violence and hopelessness. It’s difficult to stand here today without thinking about students in Iraq, Palestine, and Israel whose futures have been derailed by years of conflict. My friends, no person, no nation can ignore the hopes of others around the world. We are tied by inseparable kinship and shared dreams. Your fellow students everywhere want what you want, justice and safety, and opportunity to build lives of prosperity and peace. As long as these hopes are unanswered, our whole world pays a terrible price.
But friends, we have choices. We can’t turn away from us and them thinking and all the barriers and stagnation this will bring. We can work together to build the peace people need to live in security and confidence. We can expand opportunity and win-win development. We can open a new dialogue between faiths and cultures in genuine acceptance and respect. The job for tomorrow’s leaders is to find the opportunities that lie within the challenges. Each and every one of you will play a vital role. More than ever people need to understand each other, our common bonds and interests, as well as our different histories and sometimes views. Deerfield Academy has made a huge contribution, especially in reaching out to the Arab world.
Now there will be a new opportunity to work together as King’s Academy opens its campus in Jordan. We wanted to bring the Deerfield model to the Middle East, a coed boarding school where faculty and students are close, academic studies encourage great work, and life is enriched with competitive sports, lively arts, and real community service. We are deeply grateful for the support and encouragement of so many people in the Deerfield family, especially the great Class of 1980. We look forward to a continuing special relationship between the schools. Indeed, when King’s first term starts we have just the right Headmaster to welcome the students, a superb educator and great leader, Eric Widmer. I guess Eric isn’t the retiring type, and let me say we are heartily thankful for that, sir. Sir, we look forward to welcome you and Mira to Jordan, and I hope that every one of you will also pay us a visit.
Let me say a few words to faculty and staff. Deerfield graduates are the living legacies of people who inspired us and believed in us, and were there for us. I was in one of the first Deerfield classes taught by a great young teacher named Tedman Littwin. He went on to encourage and motivate decades of students, and his loss this year cannot take this legacy away. Our prayers are with his family as well as with his friends. Ask any Deerfield grad, and you will hear about the teachers who made a difference in our lives. And by the way, not every great teacher was in a classroom. I think we’ve all received a few life lessons from people like Norm and Dottie in the stockroom. And to every one of you, thank you for all you give.
Here in Deerfield, and at King’s Academy too, the spirit of community and achievement will continue. But in just as real as a way, the spirit continues in every graduate who reaches out to make a connection and to make a difference in our world. In a sense, that’s the idea behind the Green Key tradition; a hand of friendship, student to student, and a chance to mentor others in your turn. Now you graduates will be Green Keys in a larger world. Each in your own way will choose what doors you open, and each of you will choose whether you hold those doors open for others as well as for yourselves. Carry the Deerfield spirit forward, choose great things, and believe in your power to make a difference. The century is yours.
Congratulations, and may God bless you all.